OPINION: Mayor Wu’s outdoor dining policy is a blatant issue

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu was the first woman of color to be elected mayor in city history. Her election was a symbol of a more equitable future, and that Boston’s long days of discrimination are passing.

Except that many of the Mayor’s policies have been anything but free of discrimination. And anything but equitable.

The Mayor’s latest controversy hits home in one of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods, the North End. Wu has decided to lay heavy outdoor dining fines and regulations on restaurants in the area, including a $7,500 program entry fee, in addition to hundreds of dollars monthly in order to pay for occupied parking spaces. They have also been allotted three fewer months for outdoor dining than restaurants in the rest of the city.

This comes with warmer weather approaching and the subsequent wave of tourists. Especially with the recent elimination of the Mayor’s vaccine mandate, which negatively impacted restaurants, the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions overall is priming one of the country’s most destined neighborhoods for a successful summer. 

So why has the Mayor decided to punish some of the most profitable tax sources in the city? She has cited a disproportionate number of noise, rodent and traffic complaints in the neighborhood. Streets in the area are additionally much smaller and congested than other areas, so restaurants take up more parking spaces. Hanover Street, one of the North End’s main streets, will turn into a one-way for the duration of outdoor dining, and the North End’s centuries-old layout does not make it easy to divert traffic.

But to anyone that has ever stepped into Boston, traffic is horrendous everywhere. The entire city’s layout is poorly designed for the 21st century. Congestion is atrocious everywhere. In the summer, sidewalks are packed with tourists where the heat is only exacerbated by the hot sun reflecting off the roads. And restaurants around the city use public space for their outdoor dining and are set to pay far fewer fees than the North End. 

So again, why?

Perhaps it’s because the Mayor thinks she can. She admitted herself at the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast that she is “getting used to dealing with problems that are expensive, disruptive and white.” She quickly clarified that she was talking about “snowflakes” and “snowstorms” when her joke didn’t sit well with the crowd. 

The Italians of the North End are being anything but snowflakes. They have formed a first-of-its-kind coalition, “The North End Restaurant Community,” and are planning to sue the city. 

And so they should. Anyone who has walked down sidewalks in Allston, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, or any other neighborhood, has seen how outdoor dining affects traffic and sidewalks. Restaurants already pay fees for these spaces and cleaning fees to the city. It is discriminatory to force one community to be subject to additional fees, especially if they are being allowed to conduct less business. North End restaurants typically occupy smaller indoor spaces, so outdoor dining helps accommodate for increased demand come summertime. 

The Mayor has recently proposed to compromise with owners, including allowing the payment of the $7,500 fees to be accepted over time rather than in one chunk, in addition to the alteration of the fee based on factors such as restaurant size, liquor licensing and other factors. 

The press conference in which she announced these compromises became the subject of controversy. Channel 5’s Peter Eliopoulos reported that the Mayor made a late venue change into a smaller room in City Hall, which left some restaurant owners outside the room, wanting to partake.

“This is not democracy,” said one restaurant owner, holding up the list of people allowed in. No, it is not. 

But if Mayor Wu wants a less prosperous North End and therefore fewer tax dollars in her pocket, then let her continue to harm hardworking Bostonians. 

Follow JD on Twitter: @jdconte617